When Grace Lannigan was confirmed, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano spoke at the reception and delivered a message that changed her life … and led her to begin a project that will hopefully change a lot of other young lives.
“His message was that your faith is a personal choice and from now on, it’s your decision to pursue your faith further,” Grace, 17, recalled. “I was sitting there thinking, ‘How can I do this?’”
And then, Grace got her answer. She, her younger sister Ava and their mother Karen, had heard about Veritas Catholic Network, the EWTN affiliate, and realized what a great medium it would be to reach young people.
“We wanted to do a show led by teens and for teens—kids our age,” she said, “The goal was to reach the younger generation of Catholics. Many of them are leaving the faith because they feel their voices aren’t heard. We wanted to provide a platform for them.”
Out of those simple beginnings came Amplify, a radio show with the slogan, “Live your faith,” which will be launched on WNLK-AM 1350 this fall. Teenagers will discuss issues relevant to teens in the hope of leading them to a closer relationship with Christ and the Church. Amplify was made possible through a Youth in Action grant from Foundations in Faith, which is supported by the We Stand With Christ capital campaign. The Lannigan sisters applied for the grant under the sponsorship of Cardinal Kung Academy.
Ava, 14, said there is a need for the teen voice to be heard: “I realized that after Confirmation, a lot of kids were leaving because they didn’t see how their faith applied to their lives. We will discuss common topics that all teens struggle with and how they relate to faith.”
One show is about friendships, which Ava said are “Sometimes confusing and complicated so we try to bring an element of our faith into them to make sure they are good and wholesome friendships that last.”
Why the name “Amplify”? “We loved that word,” Ava said. “We want to amplify our faith to make it bigger, larger and better known.”
The Lannigan sisters, who attend Cardinal Kung Academy in Stamford, will be joined by classmate Gabrielle Nagle and Shane Miller of Trumbull High School. Grace will moderate the discussions and Father Sam S. Kachuba, pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Fairfield and chaplain of Veritas, will guide the conversation.
Steve Lee, president and CEO of Veritas, said, “Young people are leaving the Church because they say they can’t relate to it, and these students want to reach out to their peers and show them they are normal kids who like the same things … and follow Christ.”
Karen Lannigan, who serves as adult mentor for the project, said parents have a large stake in their children’s faith journey in a secular society. She and her husband Peter recognize the challenges the world presents and how critical it is for their children to have a grounding in the Catholic faith.
“Our culture often collides with our faith,” she said. “At their age, what they have to say really does matter, and oftentimes as adults, we forget that. I love mentoring them as they explore their faith and grow in it.”
When the girls approached their classmates, a dozen teens expressed interest in working on the project.
The hour-long shows, which will be prerecorded and air on Veritas, are broken into 15-minute segments that will be turned into podcasts and made available at VeritasCatholic.com, CardinalKungAcademy.org and Amplify’s soon-to-be-launched site, AmplifyCatholic.com.
Grace said topics come from the teens collectively as they dialogue and develop key points for discussion. They meet with Father Kachuba, who offers a theological perspective and guides the conversation. He looks at the outline they have prepared and offers suggestions on, say, issues like reconciliation and friendship.
“We started the project in January, and the teens stayed engaged even during the quarantine when we had Zoom meetings to talk about the topics,” Grace said. “We develop the content, and as moderator I prepare questions but don’t share them with the kids. Having them not know the questions leads to a more creative and authentic discussion. Father Sam takes it to the next level, and having that theological overlay is really essential.”
Grace added, “A lot of young people don’t understand how much the Catholic faith relates to all aspects of your life, and if you don’t have it as a foundation, life is tough. High school can be hard. We really want to provide a solid foundation.”
Ava said that during her Sacred Scripture class with Father Joseph Gill, there are always discussions about life.
“It is mainly an open discussion among kids, where we talk and learn about our faith, which is a similar idea to the radio show,” she said. “All the different questions that we have, whether they are related to our faith or not, can help us learn more about how to solve our problems.”
Their mother Karen said that another component of the Amplify project is to bring the teens’ on-air presence into the community at, say, a diocesan-sponsored event like “Fan the Fire” youth rally or through youth groups and Catholic schools and possibly a praise and worship event where teenagers can share their faith in tangible ways.
“The girls hope that Amplify becomes a way for teens to grow in their faith and by doing so gives them the opportunity to introduce one another to Jesus, and to invite him into their lives in a real and personal way in a similar way they would introduce one another to a new friend,” Karen said.
Other students from Cardinal Kung Academy assist in marketing and content development include Elizabeth Lancaster, August Berchelman, Max Miriam, Emma Anderson, MaryGrace Logsdail, Johnny Anderson, Emma Lekovic, Jude McLoughlin and Adriel Lekovic.
The Lannigans expressed their appreciation to Steve Lee of Veritas and others who made the project possible, including Barbara Logsdail and Janet Lancaster of Cardinal Kung Academy, which sponsored the application for the Youth in Action grant from Foundations in Faith.
Kelly Weldon, Director of Foundations in Faith, praised the Amplify project and said, “They wanted to develop a radio show by teens and for teens, and that was the whole crux of the Youth in Action grants—young people would design something they think would engage young people and get them excited about learning about their faith. They came up with the format for the show and they all had some say in the topics.”
Weldon said that last fall, Bishop Caggiano asked the foundation to create Youth in Action grants to help engage high school students. Diocesan groups and high schools are encouraged to apply for them. Their proposed projects must last a year and have components of evangelization, missionary work and a collaborative effort.
Weldon said the board has approved $15,000 to be distributed this year and applications for grants will be available in early October. For further information, go to www.foundationsinfaith.org and the Youth in Action tab.
Karen Lannigan said she hopes Amplify can help teenagers navigate the challenges they face in a secular society.
“When they are young, you really do have your hands on the steering wheel and you wield so much influence, but as the teen years approach, there are so many things that impact who they are and who they become,” she said. “My husband Peter and I were not really going to allow our faith to take a back seat, and we believe it is important to dialogue with them and fortify them to stand strong for what they believe.”
She said that throughout the diocese there are like-minded teenagers and that it is crucial to build a community within parishes and across parishes so they know they are not alone. Amplify can be the tool that helps teenagers connect with one another, she believes.
“So many of them leave their faith so early and don’t even realize the ramifications of that decision,” she said. “The diocese and the Church at large have to reach these teens where they are at. The teens have an energy that is very engaging, and seeing teens actively involved in their faith and doing good things has the ability to light an entire diocese.”